A Visit to Hua Hin : Naretdamri Road, Guest Houses, Beaches, Restaurants, Sofitel Centara, Tham Phraya Nakhon
Boat, Gulf of Thailand
Hua Hin is located about 300 km south of Bangkok. It can be accessed easily by car, bus or train.
By car you can either start from Bangkok by Phetchakasem Road (Highway 4) of Highway No. 35, the Thonburi-Pak Tho Highway, and later join Highway 4. The tricky part is the start out of Bangkok, and try to find the most suitable bridge over the Chao Phraya River to access these hightways.
Trains leave from Hua Lamphong Station. The trip takes about 4 and a half hours. Hua Lamphong Station is the end station of the Bangkok MRT subway. You can check the train schedule here.
Many buses run between Bangkok and Hua Hin, and leave from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal. The trip takes 3 hours or less. The disadvantage is the location of departure and arrival. It may take quite some time to reach the Southern Bus Terminal (or to reach Central Bangkok is you arrive there).
The most convenient way (we did not try it ourself, since we only found out belatedly, is by bus from the international Suvarnabhumi airport. The counter is located on the ground floor near Gate 8 and tickets cost about 340 Baht each (that is about the same price as a train ticket to Hua Hin). We have not used this service ourself, but have talked to satisfied customers. The drawback is that the bus may not go to the center of Hua Hin, and you may have to use a local taxi to get there. Depending on traffic, a bus (or minivan) is likely the fastest way of transport. There are also minivan services to Hua Hin, but at present we do not know where they start from in Bangkok.
Hua Hin is situated along the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. At the Northern End of the longitudinal town is Wang Klai Kang Won, the Royal Palace. The Palace grounds actually abut Phetchakasem Road.
If you turn left a little bit further down (when coming from the North) you will enter the area where most of the cheaper accommodation in Hua Hin is located. It comprises of an area less than a quarter of a square kilometer between Phetchakasem Road ot the west and Naretdamri Road along the beach side.
Sea Food Restaurants on stilts, Hua Hin Beach.
Many guest houses are located here, though none strictly speaking directly at the beach. Furthermore, there are a lot of massage shops, coffee shops, small restaurants, girlie beer bars. Along the beach (accessible from Naretdamri Road) there are a number of restaurants on stilts, where cheap sea food and a pleasant atmosphere are available in the evening. There are also a few middle class hotels in this area. Most guest houses charge between 500 and 1500 baht a night, and offer only a few rooms per establishment. The more expensive ones will have hot water, air-conditioning, a small fridge. Access to these guest houses is very easy (also if you do not reside there), so make it a habit of never leaving any valuables in your room.
Though obviously the 'poor' part of town, there are quite a few real estate agents located here. There are also an unusually large number of optometrists and optical shops, not clear how this came about.
Umbrellas and Beach Chairs on Hua Hin's public beach, apparently provided by Siam Commercial Bank.
The 'public' beach is located between the Hua Hin Hilton and the quite impressive Sofitel Centara Grand Resort & Villas Hua Hin. This public beach was a bit of a disaster until mid 2014. The whole area was covered with beach chairs and umbrellas, and a lot of small eateries occupying the area. However, after the military coup in May 2014, the area has been cleaned up and is likely more attractive.
Horses on the Beach, Hua Hin
Restaurants in Hua Hin in the tourist enclave are abundant. We certainly would recommend a visit to one of the many open-air beach restaurants. Coffee Shops with Internet Access can also easily be found. Though a bit expensive (affiliated with the closeby Hilton), we can recommend World Coffee Shop at the end of Naretdamri Road (Hilton side), where the Bangkok Post is also available in the morning.
This crowded part of Hua Hin Beach sharply contrasts with the rest of the long beach stretch between the Sofitel Centara and Khao Takiab (the rock at the southern end of the bay). Along this stretch of beach there are numerous hotels and beach property developments.
Quite clearly there are two ways of enjoying Hua Hin. The cheap way, staying in a small crowded part of town, with access to a small stretch of the beach. Or the more expensive way, with a wide stretch of beach at your personal disposal. Personally, we think that development of the beach area has gone wrong here, and a larger part of Hua Hin beach should have been kept reserved for the general public (and the local population). We do not say that all the beach in front of or close to the major hotels is private property, and thus unaccessible. But it certainly looks like private property, and very few people obviously wander there.
Hua Hin Beach provides horse and pony rides on the beach. The horses actually seem to be in very good shape, but one might have reservations regarding the suitability of having horses on the beach.
Grounds at Sofitel Centara Grand Resort & Villas, Hua Hin
As for the more expensive hotels, well we certainly did not visit them all. However, we wandered around the grounds of the Sofitel Centara Grand Resort & Villas. Well, the colonial-style place certainly is Grand. Before being renovated, it started out as the Hua Hin Railway Hotel almost 90 years ago. If you compare it with the closeby high-rise Hilton, well, there actually is no comparison possible, it simply is in a class of its own. A quick search revealed that room rates at Sofitel Centara and the Hua Hin Hilton were similar, but we know were our preference lies.
Except for wandering around, hanging out, and possibly enjoying a few hours on the beach, Hua Hin itself does not present a lot of extra attractions. We would recommend a visit to Sam Roi Yot National Park 30-40 km south of the city. After spending some energy climbing, you will surely be rewarded by good views of the Golf of Thailand.
A good trip (involving some strenuous exercise) can be made to Tham Phraya Nakhon, a cave within Sam Roi Yot. The problem is getting there. We did the trip by car, and noticed very few and then often confusing signage along the way. Interestingly, in the process of trying to find our way, we stumbled upon a quite impressive bay and a fishing community (no sandy beach though).
The access to Tham Phraya Nakhon is from the beach. However, to reach the beach, a boat trip is necessary. We were somewhat ill prepared, and where talked into a 600 baht boat trip, which would bring us first to the access point towards the cave, followed by a boat ride towards some rocky islands, which turned out to be a waste of time. If you can, arrange only for a trip to take you to the trail towards the cave.
Sala at Tham Phraya Nakhon, Sam Roi Yot National Park
The cave can be reached after a 30 minutes climb. You should not consider this if you suffer from any significant heart, lung or limb ailment, since the climb is quite demanding. No flash lights are necessary, since sinkholes provice sufficient lighting. At the bottom of Tham Phraya Nakhon a small Sala has been built with a small statue of King Chulalongkorn. Different Kings of the Chakri Dynasty have visited the cave.
We did not ask around at local travel agencies in Hua Hin. However, surely they can arrange trips to Sam Roi Yot, and Tham Phraya Nakhon.
See also : A train ride from Bangkok to Hua Hin